Even if it might be difficult to admit it now, I must say that when I first thought about going to Iran I saw it more like a challenge than a ‘must do’. Of course everybody knows about the Persians – with their famous rugs, cats and of course, Persepolis- the capital of the empire. However, due to the wrong image that the media portrays about Iran, many still think that Iran is an unsafe place to be, mainly because of political and strategic reasons (will not go into details) when actually it’s completely the opposite! I have felt safer in Iran than in many European countries and I assure you, the Iranian people are some of the most welcoming people I have ever encountered. But of course, you must get out there and see it yourself.
So I have decided to break some of the myths that are linked to this country – and how to do best than through interacting with its people. As I have come to understand, the generosity and their most welcoming attitude is something cultural – they will do their best to make you feel like home and not only. I have met people that really made me feel like I was part of the family.
Also, in case you are wondering, wearing a hijab for a month was not that bad as I got some pretty fancy scarfs and eventually it mostly became a fashion statement.
I was first impressed by its clean streets, where driving is not stressful even if there is so much traffic. The people are mostly calm and patient, they seem to have all the time in the world and whenever needed they will always offer their unconditional help ( and I must underline unconditional).
The youth in Iran has impressed me so much though. While media portrays this general aversion towards Western countries and especially the US, I have not encountered anyone that would have a negative or incriminatory attitude in this respect. With such a thirst to understand and to learn about other cultures, I got the feeling that they would most surely want to express themselves more ( needless to say that the ‘nightlife’ as its commonly understood is inexistent and probably the only activities that exclude doing sports are going to coffeeshops or some fancy restaurants) and this liberal attitude is strongly influencing the way they relate to foreigners. They still can have it their way through organizing reunions with family & friends as for example dancing in public spaces is forbidden.
I have also got that there is a frustration that somehow stands out as to how people nowadays see Iran which by all means they want to change. ( one time I was stopped by this man in the centre of Yazd who after asking where I was from – told me that he would like to send me some pictures about Iran so that I could show my friends and this way prove that Iran is not as it is believed to be).
The older generations, although more conservative, still they retain this welcoming attitude and are sometimes visibly honored that you bothered to visit their country. I have also met old men in the bazaars that would start conversing and nostalgically tell you about their eventual trips to some Western country or their wish to do so – always accompanied by a whole-heartedly ‘welcome to Iran’.
Other than that – let me not get started to talk about the incredible food – I have ate ( oh yes!) the best chicken curry, best rice (made in a special rice-cooker), best yoghurts and rosewater scented sweets ever! The list could go on but the point here is that Iranians do know how to cook! Also, i would strongly recommend to try the ‘ash’ (some delicious soup) and the saffron ice-cream!
Well, in terms of sites to visit and jaw-dropping landscapes – Iran has been secretly hiding twenty-two UNESCO world heritage sites, as well as ski-resorts that are world-renowned and even if not many know – also if you are in search of more exotic shores- there are in total forty-three islands in the Persian Gulf only! (out of which nineteen are uninhabited).
Surprisingly, backpacking in Iran was never a challenge – although I have even been a bit worried due to not being able to speak the language. Moreover, I fell in love with its music, colorful architecture, tasty food but mostly its people. That is why the small details – like the credit card situation ( Iran, as well as Cuba – is a cash country) or the internet difficulties *and so I discovered the VPN* as well as the hijab being compulsory do not stand the chance!
I will be back to Iran sooner or later and once again, I must repeat, it was the best decision I have ever made in terms of traveling. Grateful for all the beautiful experiences and hopefully the passing of time will keep the warmth and dedication of the people unchanged.